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New Year, New Solutions

Feb. 3, 2022
Focus on small, lasting changes to improve your outlook.

This year, I’m not making a New Year’s resolution to eat healthy or lose weight. Those kinds of resolutions rarely work out—and it’s not because of a lack of willpower.

Vaguely worded resolutions don’t allow us to make measurable progress, nor do they set parameters for success, according to experts. Furthermore, resolutions connected to external factors like societal expectations or pressures aren’t as successful as intrinsic motivations in the long term. In other words, make sure you’re eating steamed broccoli and riding the bike for yourself, because you want to. Otherwise, you probably will stop after a couple months.

As we approach a third year of a global pandemic, it’s understandable if you are in despair. All too often, I find my thoughts leading me in a downward spiral. It’s during these moments that my significant other must gently remind me that worrying about something I don’t have control of is a poor use of my time and energy.

As a result, I have decided to focus on changing what is in my control. It feels like we have surrendered so much of our lives and, to a certain extent, our identity to the pandemic. With seemingly everything defined and affected by COVID-19, thinking about what I want to do differently is an emboldening thought, one that has filled me with a sense of energy and excitement.

I have identified some common themes from what I have read, though there is plenty of disagreement, too. I’m trying to put those recommendations and advice to good use. Here’s what I’m focused on doing differently in 2022:

Identify what makes me feel bad, then set a goal that will make me feel better.

It’s like thinking in reverse. You isolate the problem and then identify specific actions you can take to arrive at a more positive outcome.

For example, I noticed my energy level drops and anxiety level spikes every time I check my email. I had to work through why that is. I realize that I thankfully don’t anticipate or fear receiving some negative news. Rather, the sheer volume of emails that I need to read, respond to and act on is a source of stress.

I’m trying out a couple techniques, including setting up a Trello board and creating task-based Outlook folders. I’ll need to see what works for me and what doesn’t, though I expect those will change over time as I learn how to tame my inbox.

Look at both the forest and the trees.

It’s easy to get so focused on doing something a certain way that you forget all the other possibilities. That’s why it’s important to zoom in and out on your situation.

For example, it often feels like hours or a whole day can slip past me, and I haven’t touched the tasks I wanted to focus on. I made myself more cognizant of when that feeling arises, then analyzed it. Was it because I let myself be distracted? Was it because I had unrealistic expectations for the day? Was it because I didn’t set clear boundaries?

This exercise has helped me honestly assess my behaviors. I’ve decided I must check-in with myself throughout the day to manage expectations versus reality. Based on my conclusion, I may need to make myself unavailable, shorten my to-do list or block off time to tackle a task.

Be open to change.

COVID-19 has certainly prompted lots of changes, but we may not like all of them. Still, it’s important to acknowledge those changes and allow yourself time to process or respond to them.

For example, that could be something as banal as caving into my cravings and eating a cinnamon raisin bagel for breakfast instead of my usual heart-healthy oatmeal—and not beating myself up for eating carbs first thing in the morning. It’s fine because it was delicious, and food is meant to be enjoyed.

I used to have a rigid routine, including what I ate for breakfast. That no longer works for me. Instead, I let myself focus on what I need at that moment and acknowledge that can change from day to day or even hour to hour. It can be difficult to not adhere to a routine, but I’m finding joy in asking myself whether something still serves me and adjusting accordingly.

These continue to be challenging times. Our individual situations may be different, but we all need to be kind to ourselves, give ourselves grace and do what we can to feel better about ourselves. Focusing on what we can do rather than what we can’t is one way to start.

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